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Posts Tagged ‘Engineering’

Diesel’s Vision

18/05/2010 2 comments

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At one time, Diesel power was poised as an alternative to big Coal and Oil…
Today it could once again bridge the sustainability gap, offering Industry and Transportation the time to find its renewable power for the Future.
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Paris World Exhibition 1900At the World’s Fair of 1900 in Paris France, Rudolph Diesel demonstrated the virtues of his new pressure-ignited “rational heat motor”  which came to bear his name to the world then, and has done so to the present day. We’ve come to also know Rudolf Diesel as an eminent mechanical and thermal engineer, a multi-lingual and knowledgeable patron of the Arts, and not least of all a highly progressive Social Theorist. Although his legacy is inestimable, his rise to fame was as quick as it was brief…and leaves us with some unanswered questions about how Diesel’s vision may have offered us a different world than the one ruled by Oil and Big Banks.

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GRID2.0: Power Struggles and Open Markets

28/04/2010 Leave a comment
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GRID 2.0 could be an chance revolutionize Society by catalyzing two critical resources…
Energy and Information!

People have been hearing more Mainstream Media buzz around Smart Grid or GRID2.0 initiatives. Some have even considered the finer points of the debates that have sprung out from the power struggles that are going on behind the scenes – mostly arising from the proposed methods and standards that would be applied to unify the current patchwork of disparate electrical transmission systems that we call “The Grid”. This need to get competing interests to actually cooperate on common initiatives is only one of the biggest challenges to overcome in leapfrogging over simple upgrades, and actually re-building our electrical distribution systems to meet the emerging needs of the 21st Century.

Some people will simply presume that these initiatives are just another example of the Corporate world wishing to cut it’s costs through new efficiencies, by updating equipment or infrastructure at the expense of Customers and Taxpayers. While this may well be true, the biggest opportunities (and risks to corporate hegemony) actually revolve around the emerging protocols and standards that threaten to democratize monopolistic hierarchies, open up delivery systems to smaller suppliers, and take full advantage of the enormous opportunities to fully optimize (and even automate) the basic economic principals of Supply and Demand with lightening fast methods based on remote sensing and network communications.
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GRID2.0: The Trouble with Electricity

22/04/2010 1 comment

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How could such a pervasive part of modern life still be so easily misunderstood?

Electricity is the invisible force at the very center of almost all the enabling technologies of our Modern world, and has filled this role for quite awhile now, so it might come as a surprise to many that it actually doesn’t operate anywhere near as well as it could, or should.  In fact, this incredibly powerful and pervasive amenity has actually been under increasing pressure and burden as a result of its poorly aging design concepts that are based in distribution principals set down well over a century ago, and which are now are in dire need of upgrading.

By looking at some of the ‘Smart Grid’ or Grid 2.0 concepts that have been getting renewed attention of late, we see all sorts of progressive ideas to better deliver a product that already travels to the Customer at the speed of light, but that is currently still often getting managed and brokered via analogue links and mechanical switches, along distribution systems that were never really meant to accept power, rather than distribute it…and that’s just where the shortcomings begin.

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GRID2.0 The Social Challenges of Energy

20/04/2010 1 comment


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Nothing serves to unite people and incite cooperation among ourselves quite like the assuring the basic necessities of Life. Among these basics, only food, water, and shelter rate higher than Energy on our list of survival needs, and since our industrialized world makes Energy a pre-requisite for these anyhow, perhaps it should take top spot by default…Unless we were to somehow revert back to an animal powered Agrarian Society that subsisted on local resources. Things being as they currently are though, out of all our currently available sources of heat, light, and power, none is more ubiquitous than the electrical energy grid that has clearly become a pre-requisite for Life as we know it.

In it’s longstanding role as an enabler for the technologies that modern civilization is based upon, the history of electricity also serves as a direct reflection of how Technology, Business, and even Politics have all interconnected over time to shape our world into what it is today. Therefore, it’s not at all surprising that the future of civilization is directly dependent on how well electricity will be ‘generated’ (with Renewable and Green sources coming online), ‘distributed’ (via an electrical grid that is long overdue for a major upgrade), and ‘consumed’ (by more ecologically aware and participative Consumers). In addressing the complex distribution challenges, radically new business models, and progressive technical opportunities that are currently being faced by our outdated electrical energy grids, we are also and in fact confronting the bigger social issues and technological opportunities that face our Society in general, and which will most certainly define the future of Modern Civilization. So what are the greater opportunities that can be realized at a time when Energy production, Distribution, and Consumption are all on the cusp of such radical change?

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Geo-Engineering: Laying Foundations

25/03/2010 1 comment

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Unlike BIO-Engineering, which seeks to apply pure Science via Technological processes to produce engineered results in Biological fields (from GM’d corn, to the materials of Orthpaedic hip-joint replacement hardware), GEO-Engineering seeks to take the same approach to producing engineered results for the entire Earth, in order to effect positive changes to our environment. Regrettably, the term Geo-Engineering seems to have been misappropriated and popularized as a description of Ecological or Environmental engineering applications on a global scale, even though the terms Enviro, Global, or ECO-Engineering would likely have been much more appropriate descriptors for this sort of work. Unfortunately for the real Geo-Engineers out there (who’ve been working long and hard on true Geological Engineering), the term GEO has already been co-opted by Environmentalists, adopted by the Media, and is now popularized to represent applied technological solutions to our most pressing issues around Climate Change. So thanks to prevailing trends in the Media, Geo-Engineering has effectively come to mean something else entirely to all of us who are not engineers.

Geo-Engineering has been categorical science since the Sixties (when it first became popular to believe that Technology could fix anything), and it seems to be finally coming into vogue after being brought to back to public attention by mainstream Media sources such as the New York Times. Geo-Engineering (as we currently accept the poorly named field) has become a notably complex endeavor that requires the collection, collation and application of knowledge from three VERY large areas of study:

* Scientific disciplines including Climatology, Biochemistry, Ecology, Meteorology and several subsets of Biology and Physics
* Engineering disciplines including aeronautical, naval, architectural, ballistics, propulsion, and materials Engineering.
* Regulatory/Management and other control disciplines such as business process and risk management, and realtime operational research…and of course an insanely complex and interdependent maze of International Politics, Regulations, Diplomacy, and Trade.

Before delving into these ridiculously broad categories of study, first, let’s just put away any indignant or ignorant self-righteousness about “playing God” with the environment. Instead, let’s simply admit that we’ve already been toying with our Ecology, and changing the Earths environment in countless ways for a long time now already.

Whether it’s by altering watersheds and aquifers, re-engineering entire drainage systems for irrigation or hydro power, or by clearcutting the heat and CO2 consuming capacity of entire forests, and let’s not forget the ongoing and always contentious issues behind enormous volumes of CO2 (and other more potent greenhouse gases) escaping into the atmosphere, as Humans we are already very deeply ensnared in the tricky game of Geo-Engineering. Thus the dire scenarios described as AGW, or “Anthropogenic” (man-made) Global Warming are directly attributed to Human activities, which nobody questions as being capable of changing an entire planet.

So since we’ve already been behaving like foolish Gods (or rather like some lesser being that has self-provisioned itself with Godlike dominion over nature according to some self-distorting Judeao-Christian fallacy) let’s then look at the risks of Geo-Engineering more realistically.

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Science Journals: Purveyors or Gatekeepers?

18/03/2010 1 comment

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Publish or Perish !

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After after harnessing the laws of Nature, and applying Truth and Reason to triumph over dogmatic Religion, Science now seems to be capable of falling into the same traps of power and corruption that can undermine all great human pursuits and lofty achievements. Hopefully, the same basic principals that allowed Science to persevere and flourish, can also be brought to bear upon its own methods now, in order to redeem itself to the Media and clamoring Masses that have lost their blind faith.

Since we’ve all been raised to believe that Science is based in Truth, and that Justice and Liberty are inalienable rights, it should come as no surprise that the General Public risks becoming(at least temporarily) disenfranchised by the fact that there seems to be some degree of suppressed dissent in the Scientific Community revolving around Climate Science.   From a Layman’s point of view, many people have grown weary of the arguments, and are ready to just “follow the money” when it comes to understanding the causes of the global warming debate. Most intelligent people are also becoming hyper-sensitized to anything that even remotely resembles propaganda, and have started to see past the all political posturing, economic interests, and ethical self-righteousness of the Climate Change movement to realize that we might actually have a more profound and underlying dilemma to consider here. One that is failing to address deeper ecological issues, while still trying to commoditize carbon dioxide through legislation. A dilemma which might eventually stem itself from our Society’s reliance on Science as the primary guiding force in human achievement and evolution. Therefore, in order to proceed into a clarified vision of the Future where environmental issues can be addressed at their root cause, let’s first consider the risks of losing our best guiding force in a world presently ruled by money and politics.

As we risk losing our faith in Science here in the Present, we need to regain a workable trust in what we had hoped were the infallible principals of the Scientific Method in order to move towards a more pre-verified Future outlook.  Since many people believe that Science has indeed supplanted Religion (which arguably supplanted Nature long ago!) as our guiding force in Society and Life as we know it, let’s proceed according to any other scientific or “religious” study by considering the facts as basic articles of faith, and as they exist within the scientific community itself. The first step to redeeming our views of Science would surely be to turn to the ‘scripture’ of Science, as it has been methodically collected and presented throughout the ages by the indentured librarians and peer-reviewed science journals that this community of researchers and trusted professionals places its own trust into.

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THORIUM: A Tipping Point in History

02/03/2010 5 comments

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Thorium has somehow survived its early demise…

Now it stands poised to fuel a limitless Future if we can change the course of history  !

Thorium ModelThe nuclear debate continues to put forward large scale alternatives to fossil-fueled Society, but has never included a much better option, when it comes to managing the waste and risks. This tragedy is essentially the result of politics, not science, since there likely isn’t a more misunderstood and overlooked element on the Periodic Table than Thorium.

Despite its enormous potential to safely power both the developing world and our modern societies through the self-regulating energy production of the little known “Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor” (LFTR).  This long-mothballed reactor design is gaining great new attention in other parts of the world because it produces only small amounts radioactive waste (which fully decay in a few hundred years, rather than many thousands), offers no realistic potential for easy weaponization, and in fact enables the destruction of weapons grade materials. Thorium astoundingly still remains an elemental mystery to most people to this very day however. Mainly because it’s early and successful development in the U.S. was nixxed in favor of the Uranium-based weapons programs in the 50’s and 60’s.

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